(This column was first published in the March 24, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)
On the Ides of March ‹ that day in mid-month we remember from school as the date of Julius Caesar's murder ‹ I finally got out for a walk after being mostly house-bound through this uncomfortable winter.
And what a pleasant walk it was. Only about two miles, mostly through residential neighborhoods, but also through the woods along Baehre Swamp and Margaret Louise Park.
It was one of those glorious days: a blue cloudless sky with not a breath of wind, every sound carrying in the still cold air.
The little remaining snow had settled and developed a hard crust. In some places I could walk on it without breaking through, but even when it wouldn't hold my weight it was only an inch or two deep. Sidewalks were still ice covered, and footprints made earlier in slush had now hardened into irregular tracks that made walking tricky in some places. In others they were covered with smooth ice, much of it now white. I like those white ice sheets where the underlying water has receded, because I can crunch across them making loud, satisfying noises.
One thing is different now in this area. Dogs do not come out either to greet you with tail wagging or to bark furiously while baring their teeth. Many owners have had those animal restraining boundaries fixed and excited dogs run back and forth across lawns as though they are ranging behind a real fence. They act hypnotized and their barking sounds frustrated. I wonder if they'll wear paths in the lawns where they run.
My first bird of that morning was a robin. It was far from the only one I had yet encountered and I didn't even see this bird. It was cut-cutting from a tree behind a house. There were still a few berries around to last it until lawns are bared and it can forage for worms.
This is a time of year when the common birds still receive attention. Later they will simply be ticked off on the day's list and immediately forgotten. On that morning I took a closer look at a sporty male house sparrow, his black bib and white ear patch making him quite attractive and even giving him a rather formal appearance. He didn't offer much of a song but he chirped away as though I should appreciate his melody.
The starling is a better vocalist. Granted it does some screeching but at this time of year it has a varied repertoire. It is quite a good mimic and I watched one whistling quietly a few notes of a cardinal's tear tear tear song. It did a good job as it was rewarded by a responding cardinal in the distance.
I walked back through the woods from Hopkins Road and was immediately greeted by the nasal calls of a nuthatch. Then two red-bellied woodpeckers churred in the background. I watched for them and one soon rewarded me by flying into a nearby tree. It was good to see that this southern species, only recently moved into our region, had made it through this harsh winter.
But then I received a real surprise. A large bird flew low across my path. The brief glance I had of it suggested that it was a wild turkey and, sure enough, a female ran across the trail following her consort. She left her big tracks for me to examine.
No sooner had the turkeys moved off when I received a final treat. A muskrat peeped out at me through a hole in the drainage ditch ice.
I returned home rejuvenated.-- Gerry Rising